Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

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Saturday 29 April 2023


A siphonophore fish depicted on an unofficial postage stamp released by the self-proclaimed Georgian state of Abkhazia in 1998 (NB – its erstwhile genus has been misspelled on this stamp as Kasidorom, instead of Kasidoron) (public domain)

Appearances can deceive, in more ways than one, as exemplified here by the truly remarkable case of two very different fishes that turned out to be one and the same. Let me explain.

In 1965, a small but spectacular fish called Kasidoron edom was described in a Bulletin of Marine Science paper by C. Richard Robins and Donald P. de Sylva from the University of Miami's Institute of Marine Science (click here to access this paper). Sole member of a totally new genus and taxonomic family (until a second, similar species, K. latifrons, was recorded in 1969, from the western Indian Ocean), it became known as the siphonophore fish.

Drawings by Catherine Hale of the siphonophore fish, from the above-mentioned Bulletin of Marine Science paper by C. Richard Robins and Donald P. de Sylva (© Catherine Hale/C. Richard Robins/Donald P. de Sylva/Bulletin of Marine Science – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial fair use basis for educational/review purposes only)

This was due to its astonishing pelvic fins. These were greatly modified, the third ray in each one having transformed into a long, multi-branched tree-like organ dubbed the pelvic tree, hanging underneath its body, terminating in a series of luminous(?), leaf-like sacs, and closely resembling the tentacular appendages of those superficially jellyfish-like composite creatures the siphonophores (exemplified by the famous Portuguese man-o'-war Physalia).

Known at that time only from waters of around 6-165 ft depth, about 150 miles east of Florida's Cape Canaveral and northeast of Bermuda, this 1.25-in-long velvet-black fish attracted appreciable interest, on account of its conjoined pelvic fins' unique, extraordinary structure. This was assumed to be a device for warding off predators, as they would be likely to mistake its harmless form for the deadly stinging tentacles of genuine siphonophores.

Two siphonophore fish photographs discovered by me recently here on the Quora website (No copyright/ownership details for them are given there, and despite considerable online searches I have been unable to locate any either, so I am including these photos on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

After a time, however, the remainder of this fish's anatomy began to receive attention too, and researches ultimately disclosed that in spite of its distinctive appearance the siphonophore fish was not a new species at all.

On the contrary, it was unmasked as the hitherto-unknown juvenile form of an odd little species called the gibber fish (aka gibberfish) Gibberichthyes pumilus, which had been formally described and named in 1933. It had been discovered in the waters around Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Sketch of the gibber fish G. pumilus (Haplochromis/Wikipedia – public domain); click here to view a colour photograph of a gibber fish.

Previously known only from four specimens, this deepwater denizen attains a total length of 4.5 in, and inhabits the western North Atlantic, as well as the South Pacific waters close to the Samoan Islands. With a very large head, a deep, laterally flattened body, and perfectly normal fins lacking any vestige of its juvenile's astounding tentacle-impersonating pelvic tree, the gibber fish is placed within a taxonomic family of its own, most akin to the squirrelfishes and slimeheads.

Moreover, as the second siphonophore fish species, K. latifrons, has also been reclassified as a gibber fish, it is now known as G. latifrons.

The full set of unofficial Abkhazia postage stamps, which includes not only the siphonophore fish stamp (bottom left) but also a stamp depicting the hairy fish [see below for details] (top left) (public domain)

Interestingly, a very similar scenario of extreme metamorphosis from juvenile to adult was more recently revealed with another enigmatic, highly distinctive little fish that had long puzzled ichthyologists – the so-called hairy fish Mirapinna esau. You can read about its own very intriguing history here on ShukerNature, and also here in an early cryptozoology article of mine reproduced on ShukerNature.

This ShukerNature blog article is expanded from my book The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.

1 comment:

  1. Never heard of this before, absolutely fascinating. I have quite the obsession with weird deep sea wildlife and those ShukerNature articles examining that topic end up being among my all time favourites posted to this blog.

    Also curious that Abkhazia ends up taking enough of an interest in these fishes that they end up on the country's postage stamps.